Thanks everyone! It's been awhile since I've updated this thread, and a lot has happened in almost two months. Here are some notable changes:
While I enjoyed the hardscape, I ended up removing a fair amount of the wood. BBA kept growing on it, especially near the tips, and I believe it was due to the wood being so close to the light.
I got fish! Current stocking:
2 blue rams
9 black neon tetras
1 baby bristlenose pleco
3 amano shrimp
1 zebra nerite snail
Casualties so far:
3 black neons - One due to ich, one due to camallanus worms, and the last one unknown because it was 2 weeks after I had finished treating for ich and camallanus worms, and my amanos picked it clean over night.
1 oto - Died one day after I got it in my quarantine tank with a huge, bloated belly.
1 amano - Found it dried up about 20 feet away from my aquarium. Those things can really crawl for awhile out of water..
A few days after I got my fish (everything except the otos which I got later on), I noticed ich spots on the black neons. I treated it by raising the water temp to 86 degrees for two weeks, and that seemed to cure it. Had an airstone in the tank the whole time to make sure it was still oxygenated. Some of my plants suffered, especially the rotala and blyxa which ended up melting away. Only lost a single black neon so I'm thankful it wasn't too bad.
A week into my ich treatment, I noticed camallanus worms on two of the black neons. I ordered Levamisole to treat the whole tank, but I had to wait until after my ich treatment because Levamisole should be dosed with a tank temp ~75 degrees to be effective. Lost another black neon due to the worms. Three weeks later, I just finished treating the tank a second time with Levamisole to ensure all the worms are dead.
My tank has a really oily film on top that the lily pipes can't handle. I also added frogbit, and it wasn't doing very well. I believe the film was clinging to the leaves, affecting their ability to stay above water, and eventually causing them to melt. I got an Eheim skim 350 and it works great! Added benefit is increased circulation in the tank.
Overall, I'm content with how the tank is chugging along! The filter is a beast and easily keeps up with the tank. I've cleaned it once since I set it up, and it wasn't too dirty. I mostly just switch out/rinse the filter floss every other week. Still dosing EI once a week and excel daily with 50-60% weekly water changes. Nitrate never gets above ~15-20ppm, and once the frogbit gets a stronger foothold, I suspect that number will drop. I really enjoy the black neons, and I think they're an underrated tetra. They are little piggies, while the rams are much shyer eaters. I feed my fish NLS thera-A, frozen blood worms, ken's premium tropical flakes, ken's veggie wafers, and zucchini. For such a long post though, I only have 2 phone pictures of my tanks about 1-2 weeks apart. It's almost like a game of spot the difference! I'll be borrowing my SO's DSLR next week to take some pictures, but the only setting I know how to use is automatic so we'll see how that goes. Hopefully I can get a few close ups of the fish though.